How Carrier Battle Groups Work

The Carrier

An aircraft carrier allows the U.S. navy to move an entire airport, along with 70 to 80 fighters, bombers and support aircraft, anywhere in the world where there is an ocean. This ability gives the United States incredible flexibility, because there is no need for treaties or permission from other nations. With a speed of approximately 700 nautical miles per day and bases on both the east coast of the United States and in Hawaii, aircraft carriers can arrive anywhere in the world in less than two weeks.

Photo courtesy Department of Defense - Defense Visual Information Center
Left: Nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise
Right: USS Sacramento support ship, USS Reid frigate

Because aircraft carriers are so valuable, because they are so powerful and because they are so few in number (the U.S. has only 12 of them, with two under construction [ref]), they are very obvious targets for enemy forces. Aircraft carriers are also huge and impossible to hide. They are vulnerable from several different angles:

  • The enemy can attack from the sea with boats equipped with long-range cannons and cruise missiles.
  • The enemy can attack from underwater with submarines, mines and torpedoes.
  • The enemy can attack from the air with airplanes, bombs and missiles.

The carrier battle group is responsible, therefore, for protecting the aircraft carrier at the center of the group.